Members of the Board of Supervisors defended Loudoun County’s controversial marketing agreement with the Washington Redskins during a budget work session Thursday, calling it a valuable economic development tool for the county but not saying how it promotes tourism.
The eight-year, $2 million deal gives the county the use of a luxury suite at one game each year, among other marketing tools that brand Loudoun as the corporate home of the Redskins. The county pays the Redskins using restricted funds generated by its hotel tax revenue, which, under Virginia law, may be used only to promote travel and tourism in the county. A $500,000 payment to the team is included in County Administrator Tim Hemstreet’s fiscal 2015 budget plan, which supervisors are reviewing in sessions this month.
But some critics of the agreement say that it does little to benefit tourism and that the hotel tax revenue could be better spent elsewhere. Former supervisor and finance committee chairman Jim Burton said the county is using the tax revenue as a “slush fund” for general economic development rather than to promote travel and tourism.
“Clearly, the funds are being used for purposes other than what was intended in the agreement,” Burton said. “It makes me wonder what else the Department of Economic Development is doing that is contrary to what it claims. Perhaps it is time for a thorough investigation and audit of that department.”
Loudoun economic development officials and Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Shawn M. Williams (R-Broad Run) hosted business executives in luxury suites at Redskins games in 2012 and 2013. Williams said both events were “highly successful in terms of marketing Loudoun to potential prospects.”
Many of those invited to Loudoun’s suite represented commercial real estate firms, including CRE Partners, Jones Lang LaSalle, Mohr Partners, Windward Commercial and Marathon Realty Group. Other businesses on the guest lists included DBI Architects, FourthWall Media and UrbanScale, an architecture and planning firm. None of the businesses listed were directly associated with tourism.
Buddy Rizer, Loudoun’s economic development director, said, “The return [on the marketing agreement] has been there, certainly from a business development standpoint.
“When I’m out selling to people that don’t really know where Loudoun County is, when I tell them we’re the corporate home of the Washington Redskins, that’s a real powerful message to be able to send.”
Andrea McGimsey, a former supervisor who manages Oatlands, a historic plantation home near Leesburg, said, “I’ve not been able to understand the business sense of this. I can’t quite understand paying any company for the ability to say that they have their corporate headquarters here.” She added that she doubts businesses would move to Loudoun because it is the NFL team’s corporate headquarters.
“Tourism is a big economic sector in the county, and there are many worthwhile efforts to invest our [hotel tax] dollars, such as making Loudoun more of a premier wedding destination,” she said.
In an interview, supervisors Chairman Scott K. York (R-At Large) defended the county’s use of the hotel tax revenue, saying that the agreement with the Redskins helps the county attract businesses, resulting in more business travel to Loudoun.
“Heads in beds in Loudoun County come from two sources — obviously tourism, but really, more than tourists, it is people that are coming here to do business in the county and around the area,” York said.
“I’m just so dumbfounded by this,” said Avis Renshaw, a business owner who is on Loudoun’s Rural Economic Development Council. “The whole point is to get tourists in, right? And personally I don’t see the Redskins doing that. I see the tourists coming in for the wineries.
“Farmers are rooted,” Renshaw said. “We don’t go anywhere. We’re really rooted in the county. And investing in [the rural economy] is a better idea than spending it on this . . . Redskins thing.”